B&B owner who turned away gay couple loses appeal

Henrietta Hill is representing Michael Black and John Morgan, gay partners who were refused accommodation by a Christian bed and breakfast owner.  The Court of Appeal has upheld the finding of the County Court that they were unlawfully discriminated against on grounds of their sexual orientation.

 

Mr Black and Mr Morgan booked a room at the Berkshire bed and breakfast accommodation run by Susanne Wilkinson but were turned away when they arrived on 19 March 2010.  Mrs Wilkinson indicated that permitting two men to share a bed was against her religious convictions.

 

The couple brought a claim for unlawful discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of their sexual orientation under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. These regulations have now been replaced - and effectively re-enacted by - the Equality Act 2010.

 

The couple's case was heard at Reading County Court on 18 September 2012. The owner of the bed and breakfast property, represented by James Dingemans QC, argued that she was justified in refusing the couple entry on the basis of her own human rights to religious belief and the privacy of her home.

 

On 18 October 2012 Recorder Moulder gave judgment in the Claimants' favour. She concluded that they had been the victims of both direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of their sexual orientation.

 

Mrs Wilkinson appealed the Recorder’s decision. 

 

The Court of Appeal heard argument on 19 June 2013, and on 9 July 2013 dismissed her appeal, to view the judgment in full please click here.  The Court (Dyson MR, Arden LJ and McCombe LJ) concluded that the couple had been the victim of direct, alternatively, indirect discrimination.  Dyson MR held that “the Recorder was right to hold that, in deciding the proportionality issue that arises in this case, the court should give weight to the fact that, after wide consultation, the matter was carefully considered by the legislature, which produced a scheme which gives priority to religious belief, but only in certain narrowly circumscribed circumstances”.

 

The Court granted Mrs Wilkinson permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, where the case will be heard alongside that of Bull and Bull v Hall and Preddy [2012] 2 All ER 1017 in which a hotel owner also sought exemption from the Regulations.

 

The joined case is expected to be a test case on the proper scope of the Regulations.

 

Henrietta is instructed by James Welch, legal director of Liberty, who said:



Hopefully today's ruling will mark the end of out-of-date 'no gays' policies which are as intolerable as those referring to a person's race, gender or religion.  Of course Liberty fiercely protects people's right to hold and express their religious beliefs. But refusing to accommodate customers simply because they're gay is unacceptable and our clients should never have faced such discrimination”.

 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is providing financial  support to the case.

 

For press coverage, see here: BBC, Guardian and Telegraph

 

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